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Amid protest, Tesla signs Gigafactory 4 contract; access road starts construction

Tesla is gearing up to build their next factory, Gigafactory 4, on the outskirts of Berlin.  Here’s a rundown of the latest news on the company’s next big project.

Last week, Brandenburg parliament approved the plan to sell land to Tesla at the planned site of Gigafactory 4.  The 302-hectare plot of land will be sold for €41 million ($45 million). There’s a chance that this price might still change slightly, based on an appraisal that should happen at the end of this month. At the time, Tesla had not yet signed the purchase contract themselves, and said they would wait until mid-January to do so.

Now, according to Der Tagesspiegel, Tesla has signed the purchase contract, moving forward on purchasing the land.

This gives the go-ahead for construction to start on the site, and this weekend we saw the first signs of construction happening. A video surfaced showing the access road being built to the site. The gravel road is still quite unfinished, but this is the first sign we’ve seen that construction is beginning:

However, it’s not that easy. Numerous concerns have been brought up about the environmental impact of the factory site. These range from deforestation (Tesla has planned to plant 3x as many trees as they cut down), to the relocation of an endangered bat species (whose hibernation may conflict with Tesla’s construction timeline), to concerns about how the factory will get its water supply (Tesla does not plan to take groundwater from the site).

Tesla faced protests last week from about 50 members of the public, and in response opened a community office this week to hear citizens’ concerns. The office opened in a local coffee shop in Grünheide and was staffed by consultants from Arcadis, a Dutch building consultancy firm. Some local residents were miffed that Tesla did not send their own representatives.

This weekend, protests continued, with both detractors and supporters showing up, numbering around 200 combined. The protests were reportedly civil, with both sides agreeing on one thing: Everyone would like to have more solid information about the plan.

Tesla plans to take the factory online by July 2021, which is a rather tight timeline given environmental approvals that need to be sought. The plan calls for the forest to be removed by March, if construction is to start early enough to to get the building completed on time.

Electrek’s Take

The question of environmental impact is a sticky one, because of course, all of us should be concerned about manufacturing’s impact on local and global environments. There are legitimate concerns, and every construction project should build responsibly.

Germany in particular has a strong current of environmentalism (though they aren’t buying enough electric cars yet). Particularly recently, the German Green party has surged ahead in polls and elections. Global climate protests have found particular success in Germany.

But the country also has a strong manufacturing base. This factory is not the first factory to be built in Germany — and not even the first factory to be proposed on this very site near Grünheide. There is already an industrial park next door, and BMW was going to build a factory on the same land 20 years ago. BMW encountered some pushback on the same issues Tesla is facing now, and ended up building in Leipzig instead.

So in a country that has so many factories, particularly automobile factories that create vehicles that spew pollution when they’re operated, it seems strange that there is so much opposition to a factory for a much less polluting device. And it must be noted that many of those companies were recently caught red-handed killing thousands of people by cheating on emissions tests.

We certainly need to be better stewards of the environment as a whole, and that includes shifting our transportation infrastructure to stop using fossil fuels. As long as there are factories in Germany building gas (and diesel) powered cars, we could have a better effect on the local and global environment by shutting those down or shifting their production over to electric. Rather than trying to stop the construction of a factory from the one company we know for certain won’t build any cars that continue to fill our air with smog-forming, climate-change-causing, lung-damaging vehicle exhaust.

I think most of this opposition will be overcome, and Tesla will do what needs to be done to build the factory as responsibly as they should, though it may end up delaying the project past the mid-2021 timeline. This would be a little unfortunate, but worth it if it helps save the bats, the trees, and the drinking water.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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